The Confessions of Young Nero: A Novel. Margaret George. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 528 pp. ISBN #: 9780451473387.
Nero is a well-known, infamous character to most readers the mad ruler of Rome! Margaret George, the renowned historical novelist, has Nero tell the story of his younger years in a way that changes the reader’s perception about how Nero’s personality developed. The picture isn’t pretty but is certainly amazing at how he managed to survive the traumatic events of his youth!
Nero’s mother, Agrippina, is a manipulative, intriguing woman who thinks nothing of having her enemies (real or imagined) poisoned or assassinated. As a young boy, Caligula, the earlier emperor, tries to drown Nero by throwing him in a river but he is saved by a Roman soldier. Nero is adopted by Claudius thanks again to the influence of Agrippina but is aware that his life is in a precarious position as Claudius’s natural son could also become the next emperor.
Nero has two memorable tutors, one who introduces him to the glorious art and music of Greece and the other, Seneca, who introduces Nero to the philosophers and great moral teachers in Roman history, as well as the great Roman gods, goddesses, and leaders who will hopefully shape Nero into a moral, intelligent and capable leader. Nero actually does become a leader who manifests the best of both teachers although it is his infamy that becomes prominent in the historical records of Roman history.
Due to a drug-induced dream (or reality?), Nero dreams of his mother, a haunting scene that leads Nero to forever wonder about his mother’s intentions and whether he possesses her evil nature. At the same time, Nero is married to a woman he ignores and falls in love with a former slave, now a freed woman. After Claudius dies, a stunning event as well, Nero becomes Emperor and becomes an intelligent ruler who makes decisions clearly beneficial for his empire. But Agrippina is now fearful of her son as he trumps her malicious planning, a constant threat which will eventually lead to her own demise.
The Confessions of Young Nero is superb historical fiction. There are notes in the afterword of this novel that lead the reader to expect a sequel, one which this reviewer avidly awaits! Read this novel, a wonderful, astute, and fascinating account of an enigmatic, troubled, and haunted ruler shaped by the best and worst Roman influences!